- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Only the Chicago Cubs would trade away a top, homegrown pitcher the day before he makes his first All-Star Game, right?
It either underscores how highly the front office thinks of shortstop prospect Addison Russell, acquired in Friday's trade of Samardzija to the Oakland A's, or it's a reminder that the Cubs have made a tremendous error in not signing Jeff Samardzija to a long-term contract. No matter what you think, there is no right answer to the question, at least not yet.
The Cubs are in chapter 15 of a 30 chapter book and to judge it now would be premature. I've been a proponent of the Cubs agreeing to Samardzija's $100 million-plus asking price thus giving hope to a locker room that is undoubtedly deflated right now. The Cubs were playing their best baseball of the season and the rug was pulled out from underneath them this weekend.
That's not to say it was the wrong decision. Far from it. This season was lost the day the Cubs went to spring training. But keeping morale up in the locker room for the future is important and right now the Cubs are going to have to mentally adjust to the losses of two leaders in the clubhouse.
Having said that, an easy case can be made that not signing Samardzija was just as smart as signing him could have been.
"It's fair to say we were close because there was mutual interest," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said after the trade that sent Samardzija to Oakland on Saturday. "We've always admired Jeff.
"We did have a desire to keep him, and I think Jeff loved the Cubs ... but in the end that mutual interest wasn't enough. And I don't blame that on anyone. I think the timing just wasn't necessarily aligned by a year or two."
That pretty much sums it up right there.
Consider this: We can probably agree that the Cubs are still a couple years away from seriously contending. The absolute need for Samardzija's elite arm comes at that point. He wasn't willing to give the Cubs a discount of any kind so why should they sign him now? Why not get an elite prospect back -- Russell was higher ranked, according to many publications, coming into this season than Javier Baez or Kris Bryant -- and if the Cubs want to spend $100 million on a pitcher they still can. If Samardzija stays in Oakland through next season there's little doubt he will go to the market after 2015. The Cubs could even bid on him then.
The point is, what real benefit would the Cubs have gotten in signing Samardzija at full value now? Yes, he would be their property, but if a team has a $100 million to throw around, they'll find a pitcher to take it when they're ready either through free agency or via trade. A bidding war might drive up the price but Samardzija was basically already looking for that price. The Cubs lost a good pitcher, but he's not Clayton Kershaw. In the meantime they added even more to their prospect base. I had no issue with the Cubs signing Samardzija, and I really don't have one in them not signing him. There are different ways to get the same job done.
And Epstein made sure to praise the coaching infrastructure for pitchers in place for the team. When Dale Sveum was fired there's a reason pitching coach Chris Bosio, catching coach Mike Borzello and bullpen coach Lester Strode were retained.
"We've been able to build pretty good starting rotations the past few years with that pitching infrastructure; the coaching, the catching, the advance scouting," Epstein said. "And started to build a really effective bullpen this year."
They believe in that group to mold whoever they bring in on the mound. The only negative is the effect in the clubhouse. But if Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jake Arrieta and the rest of the team can see the "light at the end of the tunnel" that Epstein sees, they should be able to keep their head up and play good baseball as they have this season.
Yes, they need to replace Samardzija and Jason Hammel at some point but right now the front office continues to max out on the situation presented in front of them. The only thing left is the long-term gains.
The next 15 chapters should be interesting.
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